BAE Systems hopes that up to three important UK contracts will be confirmed when British defense minister Des Browne visits the show tomorrow. Production deals for the Royal Air Force (RAF) Nimrod MRA.4 maritime patrol aircraft and the Hawk Mk128 Advanced Jet Trainer are overdue. BAE is also seeking government funds for a British unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) technology demonstration program that it would lead.
UAVs and drones
Aerospace and defense group Ruag (Hall 1 Stand A21) currently has two major domestic defense orders in process. The first is for upgrading Switzerland’s Boeing F/A-18 fighter force with a new friend/foe recognition system and error-resistant air-to-air and air to-ground datalinks.
Among the defense products on display at Honeywell’s Farnborough International exhibit one that is likely to catch the eye is the new micro air vehicle (MAV) that the company has developed for the U.S. Army’s future combat systems program. The MAV has undergone extensive field testing, including some service with active military units (presumably in Iraq and/or Afghanistan).
Responding to the rapid growth in demand for training in the area of unmanned aerial systems, Qinetiq’s Empire Test Pilots’ School, located at the UK Ministry of Defence MOD Boscombe Down site, late last month completed its first “Introduction to Unmanned Aerial Systems Trials and Evaluation” short course. Fourteen delegates from the UK armed forces and civilian personnel from Qinetiq attended.
The key technologies being investigated in the current UCAV programs are advanced flight control for tail-less, blended-wing-body configurations; autonomous operation using reconfigurable software; open architecture avionics; secure datalinks; low-cost composite construction; and low observability (for example, stealth).
Having led the way with unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) concept demonstrations, the U.S. Air Force seems to be having second thoughts. Meanwhile, Europe is playing catch-up, but with three entirely separate UCAV demonstrators: the pan-European Neuron, the BAE Raven and the EADS Barracuda. Good technical progress is apparent, but debates about requirements, operational utility and cost are ongoing.
NASA’s announcement last month that–effective from the start of FY06 on October 1 this year–it will cancel all further support of U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development has sent a shock wave through the industry.
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in civil, non-segregated airspace took another step forward early last month at the unmanned systems trade show at the ParcAberporth research and development center on the west coast of Wales when Thales UK and Elbit Systems of Israel demonstrated their Hermes 450. The flight was the first of a pilotless aircraft weighing more than 330 pounds in non-segregated UK airspace.
Once the exclusive domain of the military and, with few exceptions, flying outside controlled airspace, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are now slowly nudging their noses under the civil tent. Already, USAF RQ-4 Global Hawks routinely fly across the U.S.
A new chapter in civil aviation history opened recently when the FAA issued the first airworthiness certificate for a commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the General Atomics Altair. But the operating restrictions on the UAV should limit any interference with civil aircraft and ATC.